First, there was a movie called Manhunter in 1986, directed by Michael Mann, starring Brian Cox as a serial killer called Hannibal Lecter. Then came 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal and Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling. Now, in 2001, here's Hannibal--funny how we've gotten on a first-name basis with a serial killer nicknamed Hannibal the Cannibal--a sequel to Silence, directed by Ridley Scott, with Hopkins in the title role, but this time, sans Foster in favor of Julianne Moore.

When moviegoers last saw Hannibal Lecter, a decade or so ago in the final moments of Silence of the Lambs, he was believed to be headed for a remote part of the Caribbean, blending in with a small crowd at first--the better to feed his appetite and his anonymity --perhaps in search of some fava beans and "a nice Chianti." In Ridley Scott's Hannibal, Lecter has already turned up in Florence, Italy, with a professorial air and perhaps a few scores to be settled. There's also a past victim named Mason Verger (a creepy, uncredited Gary Oldman) with his own score to settle, and a plan involving wild pigs that is pure, look-away horror.

Hannibal is arguably the most visually stunning movie in what could be a horror-movie franchise, what with Scott's evocative settings, which are likely to remind some moviegoers of Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice. Indeed, Hannibal is decidedly top-drawer for what is still, lest we forget, a gruesome horror movie. So the film balances on something of a tightrope between elegance and extremely bad taste. How else can one fully appreciate the smart screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, and John Mathieson's stunning cinematography one minute, and a Grand Guignol sequence the next minute, in which a drugged man is persuaded to gobble up his own brain? For the record, the brain looks more than a bit silly and may remind you of macaroni salad or lasagna, depending on your taste buds.

Hopkins seems to be having a lovely time playing Hannibal--what actor wouldn't--and Julianne Moore's Clarice is first-rate, but Jodie Foster's Clarice will be missed. Her intuitive connection with Hopkins and vice versa was almost transcendental. Meanwhile, for the sequel, Scott has cast his actors brilliantly, with Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini, Frankie R. Faison and the underrated Zeljko Ivanek standing out among the ensemble. One wonders where a Silence of the Lambs franchise could go in the future. The thought of a Silence 4 or a Hannibal 7 may strike some as a no-brainer, but maybe it's time to say "Ciao," at least for now.

--Ed Kelleher